Bayer and Ghent University launch 'ForwardFarming' chair

(11-11-2016) Agrochemical company Bayer and the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering jointly established the 'Bayer ForwardFarming' Chair.

Agrochemical company Bayer and the Ghent University Faculty of Bioscience Engineering are jointly establishing the 'Bayer ForwardFarming' Chair. With this initiative, they want to link scientific insights to practical knowledge in order to make Belgian agriculture more sustainable and better equipped to face the challenges of the future. In practice, a team from Ghent university will carry out trials on precision agriculture and biodiversity at the Bayer Forward Farm Hof ten Bosch in Huldenberg. Bayer finances the chair and suggests potential research topics, but the elaboration of these topics into a research question, the execution of the research and the results remain in the hands of Ghent university. The cooperation agreement is valid for two years, but both parties intend to continue the cooperation thereafter.

Bayer has been investing in research and knowledge sharing on sustainable agriculture for some time now. Five years ago, the company joined forces with two farmers from Huldenberg, Josse and Jan Peeters, to test and demonstrate innovations on their farm Hof ten Bosch. Technological innovations which, according to Bayer, can offer an answer to the challenges faced by agriculture in Flanders. For instance, tests were carried out with erosion thresholds in potato cultivation (the farm is located in an area prone to erosion), with a reservoir of earth, straw and compost for processing spray residue, and with a GPS system on a tractor for more accurate planting, fertilisation and spraying.

Helping agriculture and society

With the establishment of the Chair, Bayer now wants to take this a step further. "We strongly believe in technology to increase the productivity of our agriculture in a sustainable way. More knowledge and data collected via high-tech tools such as drones, satellites and sensors can help the farmer to make faster and better decisions, and to use the existing tools in a more targeted way. This is in the interest of the company, the environment and society as a whole", says Carsten Dauster, Head of Crop Science at Bayer in the Benelux.

With the chair, Bayer wants to "increase the economic, ecological and social value of crop production", with solutions that go beyond its own product range, such as smart farming and models to predict, for example, disease pressure in the field. Why is the company doing this? "Because ultimately we only benefit from agriculture that does well. We want to move agriculture and society forward, with a business model that benefits us. We do not intend to offer software or hardware, but we can, for example, provide the plant science knowledge to power that software," explains Marc Sneyders, Head of Sustainable Operations of the Crop Science division in Belgium.

Practical research

For its part, Ghent university is satisfied that the chair offers new opportunities for integrated and practice-oriented research on modern agricultural methods and advanced technologies on a real farm. Moreover, the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering is given the opportunity to offer its students a real test case, for instance useful for the new course Precision Farming, and thanks to the cooperation with Bayer, the results can be disseminated much more widely than through the academic channels. "This allows the results to be translated into solutions and knowledge that our farmers can use in practice," it sounds.

The research in the chair will focus on two topics: precision agriculture and biodiversity or ecosystem services below and above ground. Soil scans and yield measurements at Hof ten Bosch, for example, will be used to map out the entire crop cycle, learn something from it and use that knowledge in the next growing season, and then map out the entire cycle again, and so on. "In this way, the entire company can be raised to a higher level in just a few seasons," explains Dean of the Bio-Engineering faculty and promoter of the chair, Marc Van Meirvenne. Furthermore, the university will also carry out tests on buffer strips, crop rotation, fertilisation and its influence on biodiversity, among other things.

For the time being, the agreement between Bayer and Ghent university is valid for two years. Bayer finances the research (an investment of "several tens of thousands of euros") and UGent carries it out. Afterwards, adjustment of the agreement is possible, but both parties already see the benefit of an extension. "Two years is, after all, a rather short time to be doing research", it sounds like on both sides.